James O'Neill's Blog

November 25, 2007

You don’t want to start from here.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 6:02 pm

Holiday and Tech-Ed IT-Forum have caused me a backlog. I’ve more reading than I know what to do with … having RSS feeds brought into outlook means that they accrete there, slowly I’m working through them and finding the odd gem. For example, Sharon has had an interesting recurring theme on her blog. I’d summarize is it as In a world where we’ve moved from “production” jobs to “thinking” jobs how do organizations avoid stifling thought in their people ?

One can take these ideas to some interesting conclusions. For example, back in 1989, my wife of 4 months and I had just bought a new house and we wanted to get a joint bank account. A new bank had just opened which went by the name of first direct.*  Although they were a subsidiary of HSBC they had no High Street branches of their own: they were phone oriented. Now.. Phone banking tends to mean the dreaded phone trees and people in off-shore call centres rigidly following a script. I noticed an advertising campaign recently saying this was not the first direct way: with them you have a human interaction.  They belive this is an important selling point (as their unpaid evangelist for 18 years I agree). On the other hand If a company believes challenge of customer relationships is “how to do things with perfect replicability, at ever-increasing scale and steadily increasing efficiency.¨ as Sharon quotes McKinsey as saying -then the way to go is to move intelligence into the process and use interchangeable people. Henry Ford would have recognised that definition of a production line. Do people want to be treated as a widget going down a production line ? first direct would say no.

The problem with an offshore call centre isn’t dealing with someone who grew up in another culture or their accent when they talk to you. It’s dealing with an organization whose culture is to service customers instead of talking to them. It’s a culture which sees not people, but resources. The term “Human Resources” always jars with me – why not call your people “meat capital” or similar. In an economy which is moving more to thinking jobs the challenges revolve around talent, attracting it, retaining it, developing it, inspiring it. I’d love to see the term “HR” disappear and the function called something like Talent Attraction, Retention, Development & Inspiration Services: though whether we could nip into the TARDIS department and keep a straight face is another matter entirely.   

Of course we don’t want to completely drive out reliability and consistency …  as one senior Microsoft exec (Kevin Turner – I think) is quoted as saying “We don’t want to be mindlessly global, or hopelessly local”: there are pockets of both in Microsoft: I’ve seen “mindless” Human Resources process have a crushing effect on people, and I’ve seen “hopeless” inconsistency drive customers to distraction. Overall, though, I think we do a reasonable job. Sharon asks the questions “Do you have a standard job title and description shared with peers throughout the organisation?” and “Are a set of standard objectives used to measure performance?” in the role I’m in now (notice it’s a “role”, not a “job”) my job description and objectives are personalized. But elsewhere people have seen their team evolving into what Sharon describes as  “[the job] is to ‘do’ not ‘think’. What does the future look like? More of the same…”. Do they develop and inspire talent ? Retain it ? Take a wild guess…

In my backlog e-mail pile I have examples of the good and bad. Here’s an example of unnecessary “we’ll decide for you” management

The [Training on subject X] has been available for 45 days and is required for all [Large group] employees.  Because we  expect [sub group] to take the lead on driving [subject X] throughout the company and the industry, I was disappointed to learn that [Subgroup’s] completion rate is only 26%.  Kazakhstan for example is 100% completed (nice work Kazakhstan), but most other countries have a ways to go.  Please take 30 minutes this week to complete this training which reviews the [subject X] vision, the value proposition and the opportunities for our customers and partners.

Unless the law requires me to be trained in [subject x], I can judge: does it matter to my role and objectives ? do I know it well enough already ? Making it mandatory imposes someone else’s judgement about how I use my time. Check people have streamed the training to their PC they’ll do that (that’s WYMIWYG ) but if you hired thinkers, many will let it play, muted, behind another window, while they work towards their objectives.  If there is a date it needs to be done by, it won’t be done weeks ahead.

Here’s an example of the good: “remember to set your compensation choices for next year”. We have a number of choices, for example Microsoft pays for health insurance for all employees (that’s “process” and “global”), but employees can opt for Dental cover to be paid for from their salary (that’s “Human” and “Local”). Its a good combination: flexible benefits deliver value to me, without increasing cost to Microsoft – that’s good for profits. 

The flexible compensation scheme at Microsoft is an example of “enabling people to make thousands and thousands of individual decisions” – which is what Sharon quotes McKinsey describing modern management being about. We think the information you let people have and the tools you provide them to solve problems in their own way are important in this way of working. “The people ready business” might sound cheesy, but that’s what it is about. Just deploying a particular set of software doesn’t make you “people ready”, of course. If you see it like Darren “The millennials are coming” or like Sharon “The natives are leaving” the next generation joining the workforce won’t accept life as a “resource” or an IT regime proscribes the way they want to work.

But what if your organization (or your part of it) is run by process oriented managers, rather than goal oriented leaders ? How does it move to the new world ? As they say, if you want to get there, you don’t want to start from here.


* I love the disclaimer I just noticed on their web site. “We’re obsessive about the quality of our service, so we monitor or record calls to make sure everything’s tickety boo”

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.


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